Plenty of smoke, but no fire in the Caribbean
As Shivnarine Chanderpaul lobbed a tame catch to cover, a man named Carlton Christian slumped in his chair in the press box at Sabina Park and buried his face in his palms. Christian is a service provider, an attendant, in the press box. He is tall, well built, and looks like a guy you wouldn't want to run into down one of Kingston's dark alleys. He looks flattened now. His eyes are red; he gets up slowly, walks to the restroom and slams the door shut. When he emerges I ask him whether he is okay. "It's painful man. Sometimes I get very angry. Sometimes I get very disappointed. Can't they play even one day of good Test cricket?"
Surely, after 15 years of watching their team slump from one low to another, West Indian fans would have become comfortably numb, if not downright cynical. Some of them have. Christian, though, isn't one of them, and he isn't alone. "They fought a bit. And so I thought …," he trails off, revealing how his hopes were raised and then quickly punctured.
West Indies did fight in the Test, but only in patches and most often, if not always, the resistance came from the bowlers, with both ball and bat. This pitch wasn't easy to bat on of course and even for India just two specialist batsmen played well but this has been the story of West Indies cricket for a while now.
The best phase for West Indies at Sabina Park came when Fidel Edwards rattled the debutant Virat Kohli with a series of sharp bouncers on the second evening. It was stirring to watch. The ball flew towards the head and ribcage of Kohli, who jumped clumsily and was hit on the forearm once. Kohli's senior partner, Rahul Dravid, walked across to have a word, the fielders moved in, the crowd found their lungs, the transistor crackled in their ears, and there was the buzz of a battle in the air.
It was Edwards again, along with Rampaul and Bishoo, who delayed India's victory on the fourth day, playing gutsy knocks to frustrate the bowlers. Those phases of play were a window into West Indies' glorious cricketing past.
The present, though, cruelly intervened at other moments, reminding everyone of how dire the state of West Indies' batting is these days. The calypso has turned into a dirge. Ramnaresh Sarwan is batting from memory, while Darren Bravo is prone to forgetting the basics at times. Adrian Barath is yet to mature, and Lendl Simmons is yet to learn the art of converting starts. Shivnarine Chanderpaul is now as well known for the strips under his eyes as the excess baggage he carries on his shoulders from his tiffs with the board. Brendan Nash clearly needs more match practice, and Carlton Baugh and Darren Sammy both seem to have plenty of ambition without the skills to match it.
And the mess extends beyond the field of play. Chris Gayle is in the stands, he is at Courtney Walsh's restaurant, he is on the radio, he is at the hair salon, he is in the newspapers, he is in the media releases, he is on Twitter, but he is not where he should be - on the cricket pitch. Sammy's position as captain is constantly questioned. He is asked about why he didn't go to the West Indies Players Association's awards, whether he asked the players not to attend them, whether he is just a puppet of the board, does he fit into the Test XI, can't he score runs, can't he do this, can't he do that? Chanderpaul is asked to meet the board before a Test match. There is plenty of smoke clouding West Indies cricket, but little fire out on the pitch.
Meanwhile, the attitude of the men who brought glory to West Indies cricket in the past ranges from disgust to hopeless acceptance. Richie Richardson, now team manager, unwinds from this mess by playing rhythm guitar. Desmond Haynes, batting consultant to the team, must be tearing his hair out. Another former Test player, now blowing his life away on drugs, says he can't watch this cricket because the "quality is poor". Former Test players reminisce about the old days; nostalgia is a good way to forget the present.
The fans seem almost apologetic. On the third day, when Dravid was approaching his hundred, a section of the crowd turned to say, "Sorry about this lack of fight. Sorry about our cricket."
In 2000, during India's disastrous tour of Australia, Robert Craddock, a journalist, wrote: "Come on India. Get angry. Get aggressive. Shake a leg. Fight back. For goodness sake, do something." It would be unfair to say that sentence applies to the whole of the West Indies team. Their bowlers shook their fists, pounded their legs, and did nearly everything possible to put India under pressure. Even Sammy, a man who has to prove he belongs in Test cricket, took four wickets in the second innings. Edwards, making a comeback having replaced Kemar Roach, breathed aggression. Ravi Rampaul has skill and fight, and Bishoo belongs, and knows that he belongs, at Test level. The bowlers fought hard even with the bat and rarely give up tamely. Russell and Roach did it in the ODIs and now Rampaul and Bishoo in the Tests.
The specialist batsmen, however, let all those efforts dissolve into inconsequence with their indiscipline. Perhaps people overreact when they talk about how poor West Indies cricket is today. But it is only because the past was so great. That is what causes so much sadness. Without the romance of the past, perhaps the present wouldn't hurt as much. However, for the fans who still cling on to hope, for the ex-players who still turn up at games, for the sake of providing a decent contest, it's time the West Indies batsmen shook a leg and did something.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo